NEW YORK — Clearly it doesn’t matter whether Chicken of the Sea is chicken or tuna — for Jessica Simpson, it’s all leading to a lifestyle brand.
Simpson, the multiplatinum singer and reality TV star, as well as a fixture at the recent round of runway shows here, has signed a multilevel master licensing deal with Andrew Kirpalani, chairman of JS Brand Management, a newly formed company to develop, market and distribute various categories under the Jessica Simpson and Sweet Kisses brand names.
According to sources, Kirpalani paid Simpson more than $10 million up front for the master license. While the financial terms weren’t disclosed, the deal is being described as one of the largest master celebrity licensing deals in recent history. It was negotiated for Simpson by her manager and father, Joe Simpson; her business manager, David Levin; and her attorney, Greg Battersby.
Initial plans call for a better junior sportswear line to be launched in February at MAGIC in Las Vegas that will be manufactured by Kirpalani’s privately held manufacturing firm, Andrew Sports. Debuting simultaneously will be children’s wear, outerwear, footwear, jewelry, watches, handbags, hats, dresses and intimate apparel — all targeted for the back-to-school selling season. Larry Zarsky, Robert Levin and Stuart Sher, co-presidents of the Icon Licensing Group, are presently working with Kirpalani to negotiate deals in the various categories.
Kirpalani noted that the initial concept under Simpson’s name will be for department store distribution for back-to-school. He said Simpson and her mother, Tina, will be actively involved in all development and design. Eventually, Kirpalani will launch a line for stores such as J.C. Penney and Kohl’s called Sweet Kisses by Jessica Simpson. (Sweet Kisses was the name of Simpson’s debut album in 1999.)
The Texas-born Simpson, 24, joins a slew of other music celebrities who have launched their own apparel and/or beauty lines, namely Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Mandy Moore and Gwen Stefani.
In business 23 years, Kirpalani manufactures woven tops and bottoms under such labels as Plugg and Andrew Sports, as well as private label. The company, based at 1410 Broadway here, generates more than $150 million in wholesale volume. According to Kirpalani, he felt it was imperative to have a recognizable brand name in order to be a major department store player.
“You have to have a strategic name to build a business, someone who wants to partner up with all the retailers,” said Kirpalani. “The way I look at it, I needed someone very well known out there who had a huge demographic.
“Youngsters, teens and women know her and all seemed to like her very much. She’s a great role model. She’s very wholesome, and her father, being a minister, has instilled good values in her,” he added. “Everyone I talked to said they’d love to see her brand in their stores.”
Part of Simpson’s appeal to teens and their parents was that she insisted on keeping her virginity until she got married — a fact that was widely publicized around the globe, Kirpalani said. She and singer Nick Lachey got married in October 2002.
Simpson already has gotten a taste of the beauty world through her partnership in Dessert Beauty Inc. She launched Dessert, a line of “kissable” flavored fragrances and body care products, earlier this year exclusively in Sephora. Some of the products were later carried in Sam Goody. Dessert has recently spawned its own line extension, Taste Collection by Jessica Simpson. Simpson’s fragrance endorsement contract with Dessert expires at the end of next year.
Late last year, Simpson signed with SNI, a San Francisco-based merchandising and licensing firm, which also represented her for commercial endorsements, but that deal ended in July.
Already a successful recording artist, Simpson and her husband, singer for 98 Degrees, became household names when they allowed MTV cameras to record their first year of marriage in a show called “Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica.” The show, which aired two seasons, has signed up for another season. During the show, Simpson earned a reputation as a “ditzy blonde” for some of her silly comments — such as her famous quip about Chicken of the Sea: “So is it chicken or is it tuna?”
But she has consistently said she’s just being herself, and has no qualms about TV cameras following her personal and professional life. The success of the show prompted Sony Records to rerelease her “In This Skin” CD, which has gone multiplatinum, selling more than three million units. She also has appeared in several endorsement deals for companies ranging from Pizza Hut to Lycra.
Having sold 10 million records to date, Simpson is nominated for Favorite Female Artist and Favorite Album for “In This Skin” at the 32nd Annual American Music Awards, which airs Nov. 14, and received nominations for People’s Choice Awards for her single, “Take My Breath Away,” and for “Newlyweds.”
In addition to hosting NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Simpson and Lachey also starred in the “Nick & Jessica Variety Hour” for ABC in April. They will appear both together, and Jessica alone, in multiple specials over the next two years on ABC, including “Nick & Jessica’s Family Christmas,” which airs Dec. 1.
With TV and music under her belt, Simpson is moving now into feature films. She’ll play the female lead, Daisy Duke, in the July 2005 Warner Bros. release of the movie version of the hit TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Next summer, Simpson will be on tour for her fourth studio album and also will do a colicensing arrangement with Warner Bros. for Daisy Duke and “The Dukes of Hazzard” apparel. Additionally, she’s developing an exercise video with SpeedFit that will be shot early next year and distributed next summer.